Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh may have died more than a century ago, but researchers are still discovering facets of his brief, prolific life. Case in point: On Sunday, an art historian revealed that one of the most popular legends associated with Van Gogh — that he cut off his ear because of an argument with fellow painter Paul Gauguin — might not be true.
The revelation is part of Martin Bailey's new book, "Studio of the South: Van Gogh in Provence," which is set to be released Tuesday, according to the Guardian. Part of the book delves into the longstanding claim by the Van Gogh Museum that Van Gogh, inspired by bad blood with Gauguin, sawed off his left ear lobe in December 1888 as his mental state deteriorated.
Bailey suggested another reason.
"Just a few hours before Van Gogh cut his ear he received a letter from Paris," he wrote in "Studio of the South," according to the Telegraph. "This brought news that his brother had met Johanna (Jo) Bonger, a young Dutch woman visiting Paris, and within days they had decided to marry. Vincent feared that he would then ‘lose’ Theo, his closest companion."
Bailey went on to say that Van Gogh was probably especially spooked by the news because he relied on his brother for money. According to VanGoghLetters.org, Theo provided the painter with about 17,500 francs, which today is worth about $3,000.
If Van Gogh reacted happily to his brother's letter, "it is virtually inconceivable that he would have sliced off part of his ear a few hours after receiving Theo’s news, whatever other difficulties he was facing — even his deteriorating relations with Gauguin," Bailey added.
The news Sunday came just months after another art expert challenged a different part of the ear incident. For decades, historians believed Van Gogh wrapped up his ear and gave it to a prostitute. But this past July, author Bernadette Murphy found that the artist actually gifted the ear to a farmer's daughter working as a maid in a brothel. Her name was Gabrielle Berlatier, the Art Newspaper reported.
Van Gogh killed himself in 1890.